This installment: the world of temping carried to the nth degree (f); from Jamaica to post-war London (f); counter intuitive, essential parenting advice (nf); a Dissociative Identity Disorder case in London (f); brilliant essays (nf).
Editor’s Note: Much of our print collection is now available for holds again. The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with special notes made of digital eBook and eAudiobook availability.
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
This starts in the rigid, dissatisfying world of temporary assignments, primarily boring. But chapter by chapter leads our protagonist into increasingly bizarre new positions including one aboard a pirate ship, over the top childcare, dropping bombs from a blimp, and assisting an assassin. The stakes are always very high, and the tasks are never completed to satisfaction. Well, she really tries, but is constantly thwarted by impossible demands or (ultimately) moral reservations. There’s a circular quality as she keeps encountering fellow temps who have cycled into the next job, and even an agency for failed workers, where she ultimately ends up—no surprise. Witty social commentary laced with deadpan surrealism.
This Lovely City by Louise Hare
Lovely it’s not, at least for Lawrie who lands in a depressed London neighborhood from Jamaica in 1950. So much for welcoming this new post-war labor source to England’s shores, because racism is rampant and their British passports count for naught. He picks up marginal work with his clarinet, finally finagles a job in the post office, and courts young Evie who lives nearby. But when he finds a dead baby in the park, the entire community is upended and suspicion falls on him. Turns out his intended has a dark secret which a horrid policeman unearths. Historical accuracy includes dialog peppered with the n word which made my skin crawl every time it was uttered. Powerful and sad.
Rage Against the Minivan by Kristen Howerton
Subtitled Learning to Parent Without Perfection, and a really important message for these fraught times. Conveyed through personal history and humor which is why I, who hasn’t had to wrangle with such matters for decades, read it. After the author experienced repeated miscarriages she adopted, got pregnant, adopted again and—you guessed it. Now 4 children, very close in age. Plus one more complication: Jafta is Black and Kembe came from Haiti—her chapter on “colorblindness” spot on. All these stressors shaped her survival skills, which meant abandoning expectations right and left. Great stories, refreshing insights, applicable strategies—a treasure.
The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
It’s obvious Alexa is very troubled. Her life’s a mess (her shrink does what he can) but her best friend Ella gets her into scary scrapes repeatedly. We discover soon enough that she’s only one of a a group of alternate personalities she terms the Flock, each with a distinctive wardrobe, body posture, and presentation. She’s in and out of the bin, has a seamy boyfriend who works in a strip club, and her psychiatrist has conflicts of his own. There’s a gasp-producing denouement. Disturbing and fascinating.
Essays One by Lydia Davis
What a treat to explore the gamut of her deep interests. The craft of writing and translating and her takes on visual artists all get such a thoughtful, modest, meticulous treatment that I often found myself marveling at the prodigious thought processes behind them. I especially appreciated essays on Joseph Cornell and Lucia Berlin—favorites of mine. I must admit I had to pick and choose among the 500–whew–pages so didn’t read it all.
See you next week.